5 Reasons It Never Pays to Be Loyal to One Airline

In the past, being loyal to a particular airline and chasing elite status was seen as the holy grail for frequent flyers. The promise of racking up miles, enjoying complimentary upgrades, and leveraging other premium perks made sticking to one carrier seem advantageous.

5 Reasons It Never Pays to Be Loyal to One Airline
5 Reasons It Never Pays to Be Loyal to One Airline

However, times have changed, and the value proposition of airline loyalty programs has diminished significantly. Let’s explore five key reasons why it may no longer pay to be loyal to a single airline.

Key Takeaways

  • Upgrades to premium cabins are becoming increasingly rare for elite members
  • Online travel sites offer superior flexibility and deal-finding capabilities
  • Frequent flyer programs have grown overly complex and restrictive
  • Alternative rewards programs provide straightforward flight discounts
  • Credit cards enable comparable air mile accumulation plus additional benefits

5 Reasons It Never Pays to Be Loyal to One Airline

There are many reasons why airline loyalty programs may not be worth it anymore. From difficulty getting upgrades to better online deals. Below we have explored 5 Reasons It Never Pays to Be Loyal to One Airline.

Upgrades are Becoming Increasingly Rare

One of the most coveted perks of achieving elite status with an airline used to be the ability to score complimentary upgrades to premium cabins. However, this benefit has become increasingly elusive in recent years. Statistics from major carriers like Delta reveal a stark decline in the percentage of passengers enjoying free upgrades.

  • In 2011, only 31% of Delta’s first-class passengers had paid for their premium seats
  • By 2015, 57% of passengers were purchasing first-class tickets
  • Delta predicts by next year, only 30% of first-class seats will be occupied by complimentary upgrades

The reason for this trend is simple: airlines want to sell more premium cabin tickets rather than giving them away for free. Furthermore, many carriers have been reducing the number of first and business class seats on their aircraft, making the potential for an upgrade even slimmer.

Better Deals Available Through Online Travel Sites

In the past, being loyal to an airline meant having access to exclusive deals and discounts. However, in today’s digital age, the internet has leveled the playing field, empowering travelers to find the best deals across multiple airlines with ease.

Online travel sites like Travelstart have made it incredibly simple to:

  • Compare fares across carriers
  • Find the cheapest options
  • Mix and match airlines for different legs

As Lyle Scritten, PR and outreach strategist at Travelstart, explains, “With Travelstart, you can choose to fly out with one airline and return with another.”

This flexibility allows travelers to mix and match airlines, taking advantage of the most cost-effective options for each leg of their journey. Sonya Schoeman, editor of Getaway magazine, echoes this sentiment, stating, “These days, the practical way people travel is to look for the lowest cost.”

Frequent Flyer Programs Are Too Complex Now

Frequent flyer programs were once simple: fly more, earn more miles, and redeem those miles for free flights or upgrades. However, over time, these programs have become increasingly complex, with layers of rules and restrictions that can make them frustrating to navigate.

  • Miles awarded based on ticket price, not distance flown
  • Introduction of revenue-based mileage earning models
  • Limited availability for award tickets and upgrades
  • Ticket types may not qualify for elite benefits

As Maya Fisher-French, personal finance editor at City Press, laments, “I’ve given up on them as I can’t use them for when I want to book my flights. The flights that suit me are rarely available, and when you want to upgrade, you find that this option is not available or the ticket you booked doesn’t make you eligible for the upgrade.”

Discounts Through Other Rewards Programs

While airline loyalty programs have become increasingly complex and restrictive, alternative rewards programs have stepped in to offer more straightforward flight discounts. Programs like Discovery Vitality and Momentum Multiply allow members to enjoy substantial discounts on flights with various carriers, without the need to chase elite status or navigate complex earning structures.

  • Discovery Vitality: Up to 35% off local flights with Kulula and British Airways
  • Discovery Vitality: Up to 35% off international flights with British Airways, Emirates, Qantas
  • Momentum Multiply: Discounts on Mango flights

These rewards programs offer a refreshingly simple approach: earn points through everyday activities like exercise or purchases, and redeem those points for flight discounts without the hassle of navigating frequent flyer programs.

Credit Cards Offer Comparable Air Mile Earnings

While frequent flyer programs have become less appealing, credit card companies have stepped in to offer an alternative way to accumulate air miles. Many banks and financial institutions now offer credit cards that enable customers to earn rewards that can be converted into air miles with various carriers.

The advantages of this approach include:

  • Earn miles through regular spending, not just flying
  • Not tied to a single airline program
  • Additional benefits like cashback, purchase protection, travel insurance

As Maya Fisher-French points out, “If you don’t use your credit card a lot or travel occasionally. You may benefit from getting a more basic, cheaper credit card.” However, for frequent travelers. A credit card that enables air mile accumulation can be a valuable addition to their travel strategy. Provided they manage their spending responsibly and pay their bills on time.

By understanding the true value proposition of airline loyalty programs in today’s landscape. Travelers can make more informed decisions about how to maximize their rewards and savings. While loyalty may have paid off in the past, the current climate suggests that being a free agent. And exploring alternative rewards options could be the more rewarding approach.


Are airline loyalty programs still worth it for average travelers?

For most leisure travelers who take just a few trips per year, the benefits of airline loyalty programs may not outweigh the hassle and restrictions anymore. Prioritizing simple cost savings and flexibility is often more valuable.

What are the biggest downsides of chasing airline elite status?

Some key downsides include difficulty getting upgrades, overpaying for tickets to earn miles/status, dealing with complex rules and restrictions, and being locked into one airline alliance.

How can online travel agencies help save money on flights?

Sites like Travelstart allow you to easily compare fares across airlines, find the cheapest option for each leg, and mix-and-match carriers rather than being loyal to one.

Are credit card travel rewards a good alternative to airline programs?

Credit card rewards can be a solid alternative, allowing you to earn miles/points through everyday spending rather than just flying. They also provide additional benefits like car rental insurance.

What other rewards programs offer straightforward flight discounts?

Examples include Discovery Vitality (up to 35% off flights) and Momentum Multiply (discounts on select domestic carriers).

For very frequent business travelers, is airline elite status still valuable?

For true road warriors who fly over 100,000+ miles per year, pursuing airline elite status can still make sense to get lounge access, priority services, and some upgrade potential. But even they should scrutinize if the value outweighs the costs.



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